Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Panama City, FL

  • Published 2022/12/10

Panama City is the county seat of Bay County, Florida.

With its location surrounded by water, the city enjoys a warm climate, a laid-back lifestyle, and plenty of outdoor activities.

But the fun doesn’t stop there! You can enjoy a visit to Panama City without breaking the bank.

Here’s a list of free things to do in Panama City, Florida.

Walk around Historic Downtown Panama City

Aerial view of the Historic Downtown Panama City

Gianfranco Vivi /

Panama City is home to several historic areas, one of which is Historic Downtown Panama City.

Listed on the National Register of National Register of Historic Places, it is the center of the city government and a cultural center for music, theater, and the arts.

Moreover, the area features local boutiques, antique shops, bars, dining centers, and fun and colorful murals for photo stops.

Coca cola building at the Historic Downtown Panama City

Fotoluminate LLC /

A walking tour around Historic Downtown Panama City provides residents and tourists a glimpse into the city’s past while balancing it with new and modern sights.

Some notable structures in the area include the art deco-style Martin Theatre and the Sapp House, once a gathering place for the locals and now a popular wedding venue.

Hang Out at Carl Gray Park

Located along Collegiate Drive, Carl Gray Park is a large waterfront park with a boat launch, sheltered picnic tables, and a small expanse of sandy beach.

This is the perfect place to hang out and chill on a lazy day, and it has become a favorite among locals and tourists for boating, fishing, and swimming.

For non-motorized water activities, you can go kayaking, canoeing, or stand-up paddleboarding and enjoy the calm waters at Carl Gray Park.

The nearby Hathaway Bridge connects the area to other neighboring cities like Panama City Beach, making it easy to take a short trip across the city.

With its gorgeous waterfront views, Carl Gray Park is famous for watching the sunset.

Enjoy the Views from Oaks by the Bay Park

Oaks by the Bay Park provides residents and tourists a temporary escape from the busy city life near St. Andrews Marina.

With amazing views of St. Andrews Bay, the park is a favorite spot as the towering oak trees provide shelter from the sun.

Park features include a boardwalk, a gazebo, and an observation platform where visitors can watch the sea and the passing boats.

On your visit, don’t miss the Old Sentry tree, an oak tree estimated to be around 250 years old.

Aside from the Old Sentry, another highlight of Oaks by the Bay Park was the unique four-headed palm tree.

Hurricane Michael may have destroyed it, but visitors still flock to the park for its sunset views and laid-back atmosphere.

See the Exhibitions at the Panama City Center for the Arts

Exterior of the Panama City Center for the Arts

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Formerly known as the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida, the Panama City Center for the Arts is dedicated to supporting, promoting, and developing the city’s art scene.

It is in downtown Panama City near Martin Theatre, the Historic McKenzie House, and other well-known sites.

The establishment offers various exhibitions showcasing fine art, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, and more artworks.

In addition, it hosts monthly events like exhibition openings, book discussions, music concerts, and fun art classes for everyone to participate in.

Discover Panama City’s art culture with a visit to the Panama City Center for the Arts and marvel at its local artworks.

If you’re planning to visit during the holiday season, check out the Holiday bazaar and find locally-made gift items and knick-knacks.

Learn Local History at the Historical Society of Bay County

Go back in time and learn more about Panama City at the Historical Society of Bay County.

Established in 1936, the organization aims to preserve the area’s heritage and give visitors a deeper insight into Bay County.

Aside from lectures and talks on Bay County’s history and notable residents, the organization also opened the Bay County History Museum in 2014.

The museum contains artifacts, photographs, and other documents on Bay County’s past, giving visitors a new appreciation for the area.

The Historical Society of Bay County organizes events, and admission to the Bay County History Museum is free.

You can drop by and spend a few hours before resuming your tour around Panama City.

Spend the Afternoon at Joe Moody Harris Park

Joe Moody Harris Park is a multipurpose park near a residential area.

The park has benches, picnic areas, picnic tables, children’s playgrounds, restrooms, shaded parks, and a disc golf area.

There’s also a boardwalk where you can go on a short nature walk and get a glimpse of the wetlands in the area.

Visit Joe Moody Harris Park and enjoy various outdoor activities for everyone in the family.

If nature walks and rounds of disc golf aren’t your cups of tea, you can bring a couple of snacks and packed lunch, and have a lovely picnic lunch amid lush greenery.

Explore Historic St. Andrews

Signage of Historic St. Andrews

GotAnotherPhoto /

Historic St. Andrews is a small seaside community bursting with history, from the Spanish colonization of Florida to the last Ice Age.

Today, the district houses several homegrown restaurants, a gorgeous marina, and many exciting sights.

On your visit to Panama City, explore Historic St. Andrews and discover what makes this community special.

Visit the Bay Avenue boardwalk and see the yachts docked at the marina, or watch the sunset and take photos of this spot.

Marina at the Historic St. Andrews

Fotoluminate LLC /

Take a self-guided walking tour of the district and stop by the parks and pocket gardens for a quick break.

During the weekend, don’t miss the Market at St. Andrews.

It’s a farmers market where you can check out and purchase fresh produce and local crafts and enjoy live music.

Masonic temple at Historic St. Andrews

Catherine Cornish /

Check Out the Yachts at Bristol Harbor Marina

Bristol Harbor Marina is one of the city’s newest marinas, located in the Massalina Bayou near downtown Panama City.

The marina provides boat cleaning, bottom cleaning, sail rigging, and repair services for yacht owners.

Besides yacht-related services, the marina offers fantastic water views, making you feel like you’re in a quaint seaside town.

With its location along the Massalina Bayou and St. Andrews Bay, you can catch the sunset from Bristol Harbor Marina.

The sunset and views of the yachts lined up at the marina create a postcard-worthy scene perfect for photos.

Visit Historic Millville

Historic Millville is another one of Panama City’s historic neighborhoods and perfectly exemplifies southern charm.

The unincorporated community is along Watson Bayou and has a stable shipbuilding, marine repair industry, and paper mill.

In addition, it teems with locally-owned and operated restaurants and sprawling green spaces where locals and tourists can unwind after a busy day at work.

Visit Historic Millville and discover another side of Panama City.

You can head to the waterfront park, sit on the swings or the grass, and take in the harbor views with the yachts docked.

Discover the Historic McKenzie House

Exterior of the McKenzie House

Upstateherd, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located near McKenzie Park and Panama City Center for the Arts, the Historic McKenzie House is one of the unmissable sites in the city.

Also known as Robert L. McKenzie House and Belle Booth House, it was the residence of the first mayor of Panama City, Robert Lee McKenzie.

The house was built in 1909 and had two stories with a Dutch-Colonial style, which was common in most homes in Northern Michigan when the house was built.

History marker of McKenzie House

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From McKenzie Park, drop by the Historic McKenzie House and learn about the life of Robert Lee McKenzie and his influence as mayor of Panama City.

Conveniently located in Historic Downtown Panama City, the Historic McKenzie House is a stop on your walking tour of the district.

Facade of the McKenzie House

Cathyjpalmer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other Things to Do Nearby

Soak up the Sun at Pier Park

Entryway of Pier Park

GagliardiPhotography /

From Panama City, take a 25-minute drive to Panama City Beach, Florida, and bask in the warm summer sun at Pier Park.

It is the city’s premier shopping, entertainment, and dining destination, boasting hundreds of stores, restaurants, and cafes.

If you don’t plan on spending anything here, you can take a relaxing stroll across Pier Park and enjoy the beachfront views.

Ferris wheel at Pier Park

Fotoluminate LLC /

You can also go window shopping and browse the boutiques and clothing stores, some unique to Panama City Beach.

By sunset, head near the shore and take gorgeous evening photos.

Then, go back to the park and admire the colorful lights from the Skywheel.

Night scene at Pier Park

Olin Gilbert, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a Dip at Pitt and Sylvan Springs

Escape the summer heat and travel 31 minutes from Panama City to Youngstown, Florida, and check out the Pitt and Sylvan Springs.

This fascinating body of water offers crystal-clear waters surrounded by quiet natural scenery, perfect for a tranquil getaway from the city.

The water in the springs provides numerous health benefits and is safe even for those with skin issues to swim in.

Visit Pitt and Sylvan Springs, cool down and relax as you swim the day away.

Besides swimming, you can enjoy the springs by canoeing, kayaking, tubing, or simply heading to the picnic tables for a relaxing meal surrounded by tall trees.

There are also trails and boardwalks where you can enjoy a leisurely walk while spotting different resident and migratory birds.

Try the Wines at Panama City Beach Winery

Situated in St. Thomas Square, Panama City Beach Winery prides itself on being the only tropical winery in Bay County.

The winery specializes in citrus, berry, and fruit wines, made without artificial flavorings and added sugar, so you get a refreshing and natural taste.

In addition, they use agricultural products from Florida, helping local growers while showcasing and putting a fruity twist into their wines.

Visit Panama City Beach Winery and get free samples of some of their wines.

Try their blueberry, cherry, orange, guava, and honeydew-based wines, with some wines winning national and international awards, including the Indiana State Fair.

This winery is four minutes from Panama City.

Enjoy Public Beach Access at Panama City Beach

Sunny day at Panama City Beach

Christoph3rW /

Although you can’t find that many beaches in Panama City, you can still bask under the warm sun and enjoy the beaches at Panama City Beach.

From Panama City, cross the Hathaway Bridge and drive 15 minutes to reach Panama City Beach.

The city has over a hundred public beach access points where you can pitch an umbrella and enjoy the energizing beach waves.

A pier at Panama City Beach

Jon Bilous /

Some beaches are famous for swimming and sunbathing, while others are perfect for getting away from the crowds and watching the sunset.

Public beaches at Panama City Beach include bike racks, golf cart parking, and free vehicle parking.

For those with limited mobility, some public beach access locations also have handicap-accessible features.

People at Panama City Beach

Angela N Perryman /

Follow Gayle’s Trails

Gayle’s Trails is a network of multi-use trails in Panama City Beach that connects its parks with nearby neighborhoods.

The trail is around 30 minutes from Panama City and is named after Gayle Oberst, the former mayor of Panama City Beach and a conservationist.

Spanning eight miles, Gayle’s Trails is ideal for jogging, walking, running, and biking, and it is also a healthy way to get around the city.

Long and short trails are also available, so expert bikers or those wanting to break a sweat can find the perfect course to follow.

Residents and tourists, in particular, love that the trails are well-marked, offer great views of nature, and are open to dogs as long as they are kept on a leash.

Final Thoughts

Panama City is one of the best cities in the Sunshine State, offering a rich history, warm weather, and a relaxed lifestyle.

You can find historic districts, vast parks, and marinas where you can admire the views of St. Andrews Bay.

In addition, you can plan a trip to the city without spending too much, perfect for penny-pinching travelers and those on a strict budget.

With this list of the best free things to do in Panama City, Florida, you can enjoy a budget-friendly adventure near the beach!

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